Where do I start?
A useful place to start is to ask yourself:
- What gives my life meaning and purpose? What ‘gets me through’ the tough times? What sources of strength do I look to when life is difficult?
- Is there a particular set of beliefs that help me to make sense of life? Is my source of strength related to a place I go, a community to which I belong or my own philosophy for making sense of the world?
- Have my sources of strength changed, evolved or been challenged during different points in my life?
- Is the way I think about things different when I am ill or a loved one is suffering? (Compare how you’ve felt about things when you’ve been healthy with when you’ve been unwell.)
Start with what we have in common
- The previous section talks about spiritual support in terms of what we all have in common as thinking, reflecting human beings, rather than in terms of being members of cultural, religious or other groups. How do you feel about this approach?
- Try to think of spiritual support not as something that is ‘done’ to a person, but as a process of exploring and working through questions, reflections and concerns with someone else. What is your response to the notion of ‘just being with’ someone?
- Some people may find overt reference to spiritual issues unhelpful but may be happy to engage about music, art or their relationships. Listen carefully and be open to using a new language.
Concerns about "getting it right"
Some people find it difficult to know how to maintain professional boundaries and respond to requests they can’t fulfil. Consider:
- If you were to have a conversation about your spiritual needs with a professional, how would you want them to start it? Is there anything you wouldn’t want them to ask you? How might this differ to your discussing this with a friend?
- What would you do if someone wanted you to do something specific for them, for example take them to a place of worship or a football ground, which you couldn’t for practical reasons? How might you be able to meet their needs in a different way?
- How does your point of view compare with that of the person in front of you? How would you deal with any friction that arises as a result? Remember that ‘spiritual’ to one person might mean something very different to someone else; it is important to spend time finding a common language.
- It might sometimes be necessary to get help from other professionals or community members. The best way to approach this is by asking the person what he or she needs, rather than referring on to someone else who might not be appropriate.
In its most basic form spiritual support is about asking people what matters to them, listening and responding to the extent you are able.
We all respond to attentive presence and a certain quality of attention from another; often this is what matters most. The content is often less important that the quality of the contact.
It’s fine to ask people to clarify how they are feeling, what they are thinking about and what they need; in fact, asking shows that you care and will help you to build a shared understanding.
Sometimes just asking open questions and ‘being with’ the person can be just the thing they are looking for! You don’t have to provide answers or solutions in order to support someone who is struggling with spiritual concerns.
Trust your judgement: if you don’t feel comfortable asking certain questions or addressing certain requests, seek help.